Cybersecurity Threats in 2018: Cryptojacking, Ransomware and a Divided Zero-Day Market

Data from the first quarter of 2018 revealed that the cybersecurity threats landscape is changing. As noted by CSO Online, cryptojacking continues to gain ground: In the first quarter of 2018, 28 percent of companies reported crypto-mining malware, up from just 13 percent in Q4 2017.

According to Nasdaq, meanwhile, ransomware remains a critical threat. BlackRuby, SamSam and GandCrab all made an impact over the last three months, with GandCrab’s ransom demand marking the first time malicious actors asked for payment in Dash digital currency.

But there’s another story here: The growing division (and multiplication) of the zero-day market.

The Attack Surface Expands

As Computer Weekly reported, the total number of malware families grew by 25 percent last quarter while unique variants saw a 19 percent boost. In addition, cybercriminals are now taking the time to conduct reconnaissance on potential targets and leverage automation to maximize attack impact. The Nasdaq piece pointed to the Olympic Destroyer malware, which was specifically designed to interfere with the global sporting event in Pyeongchang this year.

Corporate attack surfaces are also expanding thanks to the uptake of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. Three of the top 20 reported cybersecurity threats last quarter targeted these devices. Although 60 percent of all web traffic is now encrypted, this “represents a real challenge for traditional security technology that has no way of filtering encrypted traffic.” So it’s no surprise that zero-day threats haven’t received as much attention, even as the market for discovery and distribution evolves.

No Zero-Sum Game

According to Fortinet’s “Threat Landscape Report Q1 2018,” the zero-day market is maturing. While there were 214 zero-day threats discovered in all of 2017, 45 were found in Q1 2018 alone, affecting everything from popular content management systems (CMSs) to device makers and industry-leading operating system (OS) developers. Division of the market by “hat” — white-, gray- and black-hat IT experts — has produced three distinct zero-day streams:

  • White hat — This market supports bug bounty programs, which pay law-abiding security professionals to find new vulnerabilities, but secure disclosure and patching of these exploits is critical to limit accidental exposure.
  • Grey hatHere, zero-day “brokers” purchase bugs for customers. The caveat is that these customers are typically anonymous. The Fortinet report noted that it’s “possible that the buyer is a hostile nation-state, cybercriminal enterprise or otherwise maliciously inclined.”
  • Black hatFor black-hat actors, the goal is to both find and create new zero-day exploits for profit, and threat researchers have confirmed that “the creation and distribution of zero days by cybercriminals is on the rise.”

This triple-threat market adds up to a kind of multiplicative effect: Companies concerned about zero-day bugs invest more money into white-hat programs to find and eliminate them, while for-profit gray- and black-hat actors look to discover and create new bugs to continue the cycle.

Transformative Cybersecurity Threats

The Fortinet report emphasized that the rise of malware innovation, IoT risks, cryptojacking and zero-day threats “points to the continued transformation of cybercrime.” Specifically, companies need to do the math on zero-day exploits — division of outcomes, combined with multiplying interest, makes this a market to watch in 2018.

Douglas Bonderud

Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and...